Watering Outdoor Plants While Away: How to Keep Them Alive

INSIDE: Leaving town and worried about your garden? Follow these simple tips for watering outdoor plants while away on vacation or holiday. They work no matter how long you’ll be gone. One week, 10 days, or even 3 months!


As I got ready to go out of town for ten days, I ticked off the last few items on my travel checklist:

  • Sunscreen
  • Boarding pass
  • Fill wine bottles with water

Filling those wine bottles was one of the most important gardening tasks I had to do before I left. And I’ll tell you about that in a minute…

Taking a vacation has many benefits: lower stress levels, a better outlook on life, and creating memories with friends and family.

But…how can you leave for more than a few days when you’re worried about whether your plants will survive while you’re gone?

You’ve worked hard to create your garden, and the last thing you want is your plants to wilt, turn crispy, and die from a lack of water while you’re gone. That would be devastating!

Here’s the good news…

It’s easy to make sure your plants get the water they need while you’re away.

Every single time.

It just takes a little prep work and planning before you leave.

Here are the exact steps I follow to keep my garden watered and happy while I’m on holiday…

…and it includes filling wine bottles with water before I leave.

And the best part? These tips will also save you time on watering when you’re home but too busy to drag a hose around from plant to plant.

Will my watering system work while I’m gone for ten days? Keep reading to find out!

Heads up: If you buy something after clicking a link in this post, I’ll earn a small commission. I only link to products I’d recommend to my best friend.

watering can watering plants while away
It’s easy to water your outdoor plants when you’re on vacation or gone.

How to water outdoor plants when away for a week or two

First, we’ll talk about keeping your containers watered while you’re on vacation for 1-2 weeks.

And then, we’ll cover how to water larger areas like garden beds or large groups of potted plants.

How to water outdoor potted plants while on vacation for one to two weeks

If you have plants in containers, self-watering spikes for outdoor potted plants are an excellent choice.

Simply insert a wine bottle filled with water into the terracotta spike, and the water releases slowly and steadily while you’re away.

You can also use these when you’re home. They supply a steady stream of water to your plants and need to be filled about once every seven to ten days.

Depending on the size of the pot, you may need to use more than one spike.

My favorite tools for this setup:

Steps to follow:

  1. Water your containers thoroughly.
  2. Take the plant watering stakes out of the box and soak them in a sink of water for two hours.
  3. Take a stake out of the sink and gently press it into the wet soil about two to three inches from the center of the pot. If it’s hard soil, use a trowel to make the hole, so you don’t break the plant stake. They can break if you’re rough with them.
  4. Fill an empty wine bottle with water (Perrier 750 ml water bottles also work well).
  5. Insert the bottle into the wine bottle watering stake. Work quickly to avoid losing too much water.
  6. Alternatively, you can try removing the stake from the soil and putting it on top of the full bottle. Then flip the whole thing over and put it back into the soil. I find this tends to loosen the soil around the stake, so I do it the first way.
  7. I also fertilize the plants right before I leave.

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Prices last updated on 2024-05-17 at 08:49

How to keep outdoor plants watered while away for one to two weeks: large areas

Best for: watering garden beds or large groups of outdoor containers

This setup can work well in a pinch if you don’t have time to set up drip irrigation or soaker hoses (see below) and you need to water a large area.

There are two types of sprinklers that I recommend: rotary sprinklers and oscillating fan sprinklers.

Rotary sprinklers

These are usually best for round or triangle-shaped areas.

Oscillating fan sprinklers

Oscillating fan sprinklers work best for a large square or rectangular area They also work well for pots that are lined up in a row, along a wall, for example. I have a number of pots set up along the base of a retaining wall, and this setup works like a charm.

Since fan sprinklers don’t put out a lot of water, you may need to run them several times a day.

My favorite tools for this setup:

Steps for using a sprinkler and timer setup:

  1. Test and set up the sprinkler a day or two before you leave. Want to control your sprinklers remotely while you’re gone? Read my review of the RainPoint sprinkler timer with wifi hub.
  2. Set out some empty containers to catch the water and measure how much the sprinkler is putting out each time it runs.
  3. Make sure it’s covering everything it needs to, and it’s putting out enough water for your plants.

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Prices last updated on 2024-05-17 at 04:18

How to water outdoor plants when away for a month (or more)

Option#1: Soaker hoses and a timer

Best for: Areas that don’t have in-ground irrigation but are too large or irregularly shaped for a sprinkler.

Soaker hoses also work well if you want to avoid watering garden foliage to cut down on disease. They provide deep, thorough watering while using less water than sprinklers.

Soaker hoses work well in vegetable beds and around trees and shrubs. It can be difficult to get proper coverage in flower beds where plants are spaced closely together.

My favorite soaker hose, from Dramm, is made from high-grade rubber with thick walls that eliminate the “geyser effect” of other soaker hoses, which saves water, and helps reduce evaporation.

Steps for using a soaker hose and timer setup:

  1. Straighten out your soaker hose in the sun for a few hours before laying it. Warming it in the sun helps to straighten it.
  2. Lay the hose in your beds. Put it several inches away from plant stems.
  3. Use ground staples to hold the hose down.
  4. Attach the hose to your timer.
  5. Test and set up the soaker hose for at least a week before you leave.
  6. Check the soil to make sure it’s putting out enough water for your plants.
  7. Adjust the timer so you’re not over or under-watering your plants.

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Prices last updated on 2024-05-17 at 04:18

Option#2: Drip irrigation and a timer

Best for: containers, vegetables, and some perennial plantings.

If you have lots of outdoor containers, you may want to consider using a drip watering system designed for containers and control it with an automatic timer.

It’ll take care of your plants while you’re away and save you time when you’re home!

These systems are simple to put together, and it’s easy to design them to fit your garden’s layout or containers’ needs.

Shop for container drip irrigation supplies:

Prices last updated on 2024-05-17 at 04:18

Drip irrigation also works well for vegetable beds and some perennial beds.

A basic drip irrigation system will set you back about $100, but it will last for years. And you can redesign it as your needs change.

Shop for drip irrigation supplies:

Prices last updated on 2024-05-17 at 04:18

How to water outdoor plants while away, no matter how long you’ll be gone

No matter how long you’ll be gone, 10 days, 2 weeks, or even 3 months, this system can handle all your watering while you’re away.

Only for: in-ground sprinkler or drip irrigation systems that are linked to a controller unit

Imagine if you could turn your sprinkler system off if it rains when you’re not home…Well, you can with Rachio. It’s the ultimate sprinkler system and drip irrigation controller!

Rachio is an easy-to-install controller that connects to your home Wi-Fi so you can adjust your in-ground sprinkler or drip irrigation system from anywhere using your phone.

  • It offers the latest weather-based scheduling technology and works with lots of other smart devices.
  • Rachio pulls weather data from more than 300,000 weather stations, satellites, and radar sources to provide the best possible watering schedule for your area.
  • So, it alerts you if it thinks it needs to skip a cycle because you’ve had enough rain.

I have two Rachio controllers and love how easy they are to use!

I also love being able to control my sprinkler and drip irrigation system while I’m traveling.

Shop for supplies:

Prices last updated on 2024-05-16 at 19:15

Did my outdoor plants survive while I was gone?

Even though it was dry as a bone, windy, and in the 90s, while I was gone, everything worked like a charm.

These setups work in my arid climate, so I know they’ll work for you wherever you live.

What about the containers that were only watered with empty wine bottles?

I didn’t lose a single plant to water or heat stress.

And that’s why “fill wine bottles with water” is always on my vacation checklist!

Frequently asked questions about watering outdoor plants while away

How long can outdoor plants go without water?

Most outdoor plants can go without water for about a week. Container plants are the thirstiest. Most need to be watered daily. If you’re planning to be away, adding mulch around flower and vegetable beds helps keep moisture in longer — even if it doesn’t rain during your absence. And most lawns can survive without moisture for a few weeks, even after turning brown in the summer.

How do I keep my outdoor pots from drying out?

You can keep your outdoor pots from drying out in a couple of different ways. Mulching the pots will help retain moisture. Another way to keep them from drying out is to use self-watering containers or self-watering spikes.

Can you use a wine bottle to water plants?

Yes, you can use a wine bottle to water plants. These work really well for outdoor potted plants. You’ll need clay watering spikes and a few empty wine bottles. Here are some helpful instructions on how to set up self-watering spikes.

Your turn: how do you keep your plants watered while you’re away?

Do you fill a dozen empty wine bottles before you leave like I do?

Share in a comment below!

3 thoughts on “Watering Outdoor Plants While Away: How to Keep Them Alive”

  1. I use the clay plant nannies, but I am concerned about the sun reflecting off the glass and starting a fire in the drier parts of my yard. Is there a fire danger having glass bottles in the yard in the hot sunny weather ?

    1. Cheryl Spencer

      Hi Marian,

      There’s no danger of starting a fire. To start a fire with glass it needs to be very close to the kindling.

  2. I bought a timer and dripper hose. I brought all my hanging baskets and potted plants together in the shade. The timer turns on at sunrise and can be set to run for up to two hours. You may need to play with the timer settings to get the amount of water the plants need. We are in South Texas, and the temps + sun are brutal. This works for me.

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